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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Entry updated 14 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

1. Film (1932). Paramount. Produced and directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Written by Samuel Hoffenstein, Percy Heath, based on Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Cast includes Rose Hobart, Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March. 98 minutes, cut to 90 minutes, cut to 81 minutes. Black and white.

While Stevenson's suggestion is that civilization may be only skin-deep, his tale of a decent, prim society doctor, Dr Jekyll, who transforms himself with a new Drug into the brutal libertine, Mr Hyde, does not exactly abandon the religious concept of original sin; it does, however, reconcile it with nineteenth-century scientific thought, calling on Darwin (humanity's animal heritage) and prefiguring Freud (the id sometimes overwhelming the ego). Silent film versions (made in 1908, 1910, 1912, 1913 and three in 1920) were usually taken from one of the several melodramatic stage productions rather than directly from the original novel, and tended to present Hyde (as in the 1920 version played by John Barrymore) as a caricature of evil – that is, as a victim of his own Original Sin.

In Mamoulian's 1932 version, which remains the most interesting, Hyde's appearance is almost that of Neanderthal Man (see Apes as Human), and his joyfully ferocious behaviour results not from inherent evil but from uncontrollable primitive drives. The most compelling of these is sexual – this is one of the classic loci of the theme of Sex in sf – though as the film progresses it is accompanied by an increasing capacity for cruelty. All this comments, apparently deliberately, on the repressed society in which Jekyll has been reared. The film, atmospheric and convincing, is an acknowledged classic, especially famous for the heartbeats on the soundtrack and the convincing transformation scenes. When re-released after the Hollywood Production Code was established in 1934, it had ten minutes cut (sexual censorship), seldom restored since.

2. Film (1941). MGM. Directed by Victor Fleming. Written by John Lee Mahin. Cast includes Ingrid Bergman and Spencer Tracy. 127 minutes. Black and white.

Growing pressures of censorship took some of the sexual edge from this glossy remake and, although the film is still gripping – largely because of Bergman's appealing vulnerability as the tart – it seems bland after the raw energy of Mamoulian's version.

3. Subsequent film versions include Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1953), involving the comedy duo in a romp with Boris Karloff playing both Jekyll and Hyde; The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960; vt House of Fright; vt Jekyll's Inferno), a very free adaptation with a plain Jekyll turning into a handsome Hyde who falls for Jekyll's neglected wife; The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1967), a made-for-tv film; I, Monster (1970); Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), where Martine Beswick plays Hyde as a woman in a film seemingly designed for fetishists; The Man with Two Heads (1972; vt Dr Jekyll and Mr Blood); Dr Black and Mr Hyde (1975); and Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981; vt The Blood of Dr Jekyll), a particularly perverse version directed by Walerian Borowczyk. All these are simply been variations of the formula, some more ingenious than others, but none with the impact of the 1932 production. The curse extends or appears to extend to the unfortunate Jekyll's (non-canonical) descendants in The Son of Dr Jekyll (1951) and The Daughter of Dr Jekyll (1957). [PN/JB/DRL]

4. Jekyll television series (2007). BBC1. A Hartswood Films Production in association with Stagescreen Productions. Directed by Douglas Mackinnon (episodes 1-3) and Matt Lipsey (4-6). Written by Steven Moffat. Cast includes Gina Bellman, Denis Lawson, James Nesbitt, Michelle Ryan and Meera Syal. Six 55-minute episodes. Colour.

A modern sequel to the original story, set in 2007 and featuring numerous additional complications. The Jekyll character, Tom Jackman (Nesbitt), is married but conceals the existence of his wife (Bellman) and children from the Hyde persona (also Nesbitt), while an ancient conspiracy is at work behind the scenes. [DRL]


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